Letter: 'Get Informed, Get Involved' with Elementary Math Curriculum

Parents urge residents to learn more about the choices for the district's elementary math curriculum, which the Board of Education is voting on this month.

“If your child goes to a school that uses TERC Investigations, you should understand that it means your child's school has abdicated its responsibility to teach your child mathematics. By doing so, the responsibility now rests with the parents. Good luck."

~ Dr. W. Stephen Wilson, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University math professor, in Baltimore testified against TERC at the June 11, 2008 Board of Education Meeting.


In February, the Fairfield’s Board of Education will vote on a new elementary math program. This program will begin in Kindergarten through 2nd grade and then expand through 5th grade. [In May, they will vote on curriculum and textbooks for 6th through 10th grade math.] Parents in the district need to consider how responsible their elected officials and curriculum leaders have been toward their children.

While most people think elementary school math is about teaching 1 + 1 = 2 and 5 x 5 = 25, elementary school math, in fact, forms the foundation, the brick and mortar, for all learning that takes place in middle and high school -- most importantly, algebra. Research shows that students who complete two years of algebra are two times more likely to graduate from college (National Mathematics Advisory Panel PDF NMP page 13).

What should children learn in elementary school in order to prepare for algebra?

The March 2008 Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMP 2008) clearly identifies the "Critical Foundations for Algebra." as understanding key concepts, attaining automaticity as appropriate (e.g., with addition and related subtraction facts), developing flexible, accurate, and automatic execution of the standard algorithms, and using these competencies to solve problems (NMP PDF pages 17 and 50).

We strongly object to two of the four textbooks currently being considered: TERC Investigations and Origo Stepping Stones. Don’t take our word for it, here is what math professors have to say about Terc:

  • R. James Milgram, Professor of Mathematics, Stanford University; “My personal view is that TERC is the second most mathematically illiterate and damaging program I have ever seen… it was one of the main reasons I got involved in the issues of mathematics education.”
  • Wilfried Schmid, Ph.D. in Mathematics at Harvard states, "By the end of fifth grade, TERC students have fallen roughly two years behind where they should be." Read more reviews here
  • Bill Quirk, Ph.D. in Mathematics observed, "TERC is totally out of sync with the National Math Panel Recommendations. Furthermore, TERC 2008 Math fails to provide the foundations of algebra." Read the full analysis here.
  • Thomas Parker, Ph.D in Mathematics at Michigan State University, "TERC students will hit a wall, probably at the end of middle school. They are not being given the grounding needed to understand the abstractions of high school algebra and geometry. THEIR OPTIONS FOR CAREERS IN SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING ARE BEING CLOSED OFF BY THEIR ELEMENTARY SCHOOL PROGRAM." His summary of concerns is here. 
  • Dr. W. Stephen Wilson, mathematics professor at the Johns Hopkins University, testified against TERC. Click here for full testimony .pdf file 
  • TERC has no interest in giving classroom time to standard arithmetic, and avoids the concepts of carrying, borrowing, and common denominators, and allows calculators in the elementary grades.  Watch the video to see TERC in action: Math: An Inconvenient Truth

Despite Pearson Scott Foresman stating its  "success stories" for TERC Investigations in a 2007 Publication,  58 percent of the districts have discontinued use or are in the process of discontinuing the use of TERC Investigations (according to an Independent Research & Analysis based on the Survey of School Districts Profiled in Pearson Scott Foresman (Data as of February 24, 2009)

The second resource under consideration is Origo Math, an Australian math program, and their “Stepping Stones” textbook. To date, we have found very little information other than the publishing company’s own information.  We noticed that this program relies on mental math but does not develop proficiency and fluency of standard algorithms. 

The Two Remaining Books Under Consideration

Singapore Math’s “Primary Mathematics” Series is the curriculum developed by Singapore’s Ministry of Education that moved Singapore to the top in global math assessments and to where it remains today. It is currently used by many top performing districts in the United States as well as those with demographics similar to Fairfield. 

Singapore math “Math in Focus” is a more recent adaption of the Singapore Framework by US publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It is currently being implemented by eight public schools, including Weston, New Haven and Bridgeport.  

We Believe in Singapore Math 

After incredible amounts of research and discussions with other districts around the country, we believe that Singapore Math, Primary Mathematics, is the best performing program for providing a strong math foundation and preparing students for algebra.  It is what our students deserve. 

What Parents Should Do: Get Informed – Get Involved - Sign Petition

Make a point to understand the process and the choices available to your child before the vote. Demand due diligence and transparency from Central Office, the Board of Education and our curriculum leaders. Email Board of Education Representatives, Central Office administrators and other parents. Discuss the issue at your PTA Meetings. Comment on this article. To learn more and sign our petition, visit our website.



Tricia Donovan

Sue Marcus

Nadine Nizet

Dawn Llewellyn February 04, 2013 at 10:20 PM
My nieces and nephew (who live in Scarsdale, NY) use Singapore Primary Mathematics. They have thrived under this math program. Maybe our district should look at this program, since it sounds like the other option- TERC- is a disaster! Why is our district proposing TERC?
Tricia Nadine Sue February 04, 2013 at 10:22 PM
Dear fully involved: Thank you for commenting and opening a discussion, that is exactly the point. We state that we believe Singapore Math PS to be the best, but ask people to do their own research. They should know what options are available and be informed about them. Opinions will differ and discussions will happen and that is good-- because people are engaged in the process. We do not give a lot of research data in the article to Singapore math as we state that it is precisely this program that was used to move Singapore from 16th place of 26 nations in 1984, to 1st place in 1995, 1999, 2003 in the TIMSS international math test. Instead of importing math texts from other countries, they created their own text/curriculum. The US, despite reforming their math teaching and standards, languishes at 25th, the lowest of all industrial nations. Too big to fail and too big to learn? While many states have opted to adopt the new CCSS for math, these standards are still less rigorous than the top performing nations. It’s a start, but implementation will be key to our success. You can Google information about districts currently using Singapore math and see if you like what you read (Scarsdale, NY; Franklin Lakes, NJ; Brandywine School District, DE; Santa Catalina, CA; Schmitz Park Elementary, Seattle, WA; Sidwell Friends School, Washington, DC – where Pres. Obama sends his children, to name a few).
Tricia Nadine Sue February 04, 2013 at 10:23 PM
Why do we cite Singapore math books? Because of the sequencing and focus of the math content. SM teaches fewer topics at a slower pace and teaches to mastery. It provides rich problem sets and many opportunities to apply concepts. US math texts don’t scaffold progressive skill and concept development like they do in SM and they have poor practice sets. US textbooks are typically authored by several writers and units of study are presented as themes. Books dedicate a day or a few to a topic, then move on to a new, unrelated theme that doesn’t reinforce prior skills or knowledge. How many topics does your elementary schooler see and how many do they know well? This spiral technique is easy for textbook designers (they can quickly crank out a new book using many authors) and it’s easier for teachers and students who don’t have to show mastery of content. This is called teaching to “exposure”, not teaching to mastery. Our poor performance in higher level math is due to poor foundation building in the early years. The development of fractions and decimals, in particular, is something that US Textbooks do very poorly and Singapore does well, leading to better performance in middle school math and algebra readiness as laid out by the National Math Advisory Panel. Why all the noise? We have a choice in front of us: we are moving to CC, let’s make sure we know what choices lay in front of us and choose what’s best. After all, we’re paying for it.
Stephanie Hayes February 06, 2013 at 11:22 PM
I fully support opening a dialogue to allow parents to be more involved with their children's education. Here are some facts from the President of ORIGO Education to support your future articles. -ORIGO Education Inc. is an American company based in Missouri. Dr. Calvin Irons, co founder of ORIGO and senior author of the Stepping Stones was once a citizen of the US but is currently residing in Australia. He has been teaching elementary math methods for more than 35 years. -Several highly respected US education leaders, holding top positions in NCTM, NCSM, and OSPI, have consulted on every aspect of the program during its development. -Although the latest version of Singapore Math has been highly "Americanized", the visual and conceptual approach that is still somewhat evident in the program is very similar to that of Stepping Stones. This is because Dr. Fong Ho Kheong, the founding writer of the original Singapore Math program, learned his approach when he studied under Dr. Calvin Irons during his stay in Australia. They are still good friends today and in regular contact.
Stephanie Hayes February 06, 2013 at 11:23 PM
-As far as we aware, Stepping Stones is still the only core program that has been written from the ground up to meet the demands of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Therefore the content and approach of Stepping Stones reflects both the content and intent of the CCSS. The developers have had continual correspondence with the authors of the CCSS to get it right. -Stepping Stones does emphasizes thinking and mental strategies because the CCSS puts "mental" first. Anyone reviewing the currently available K-2 content will not see standard addition and subtraction algorithms developed because according to the CCSS, they are not required until the end of third grade. To teach these earlier than grade 3 would be missing the intent of the CCSS. -The content being written now for grades 3-5 does include the teach the formal algorithms for all four operations and does provide more than sufficient opportunities to gain fluency in basic facts and algorithms – as required by the CCSS.


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